Jul 24 2019
Basis Technologies

Why Target Impression Share in Search Engine Marketing?


Advertisers have always prioritized position bidding over targeting impression share. Recently, though, Google Ads introduced a number of new metrics to help advertisers better understand the role of impressions and position in ad performance. 

Forward-thinking advertisers can take advantage of this data to improve their bidding strategies and campaign performance. Here’s how to view and harness impression data for better search engine marketing.

How to View Impression Share Data

Adwords provides a wealth of data about impression share performance, but most advertisers don’t look at it. To see if targeting impression share is an important performance goal for your account, you’ll want to get a clear picture of how many impressions your current ads are getting. 

To view impression data in your Google Ads statistics table, you’ll need to modify columns in Adwords. Here’s how: 

1. From the main page menu of Google ads, click Campaigns, Ad groups, Product groups or Keywords.

2. Select the column icon:

Figure 1 | Target Impression Share

3. Then click "Modify columns".

4. Expand "Competitive metrics". Then you can check the boxes next to the different metrics you want to see.

Figure 2 | Target Impression Share

5. Click Apply. Now the impression share data will appear in your statistics table.

Google offers a number of impression share metrics that can give you a deeper understanding of how your ads are performing. Here’s an overview of the different ways you can view impression share:

Search impression share: Search Network impressions divided by the number of impressions your ads were eligible for (campaign level).

Display impression share: Display Network impressions divided by the number of impressions your ads were eligible for (campaign level).

Search Lost IS (budget): Percentage of time your ads weren't shown on the Search Network due to insufficient budget (campaign level).

Display Lost IS (budget): Percentage of time your ads weren't shown on the Display Network due to insufficient budget (campaign level).

Search Lost IS (rank): The percentage of time your ads weren't shown on the Search Network due to poor Ad Rank in the auction.

Display Lost IS (rank): The percentage of time your ads weren't shown on the Display Network due to poor Ad Rank.

Search Exact match IS: The impressions you've received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible for on the Search Network for search terms that matched your keywords exactly (or close variants of your keyword).


In the past, advertisers would rely on average rank to understand ad position, but that metric isn’t truly meant to describe where an ad appears on a page. In 2018, Google Ads also rolled out four new metrics that can help you understand where your ads appear on the search engine results pages:

Impr. (Absolute Top) % - Percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results.

Impr. (Top) % - Percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results.

Search Absolute Top Impression Share - Impressions you’ve received in the absolute top location (the very first ad above organic search results) divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location.

Search (Top) IS - Impressions you’ve received in the top location (anywhere above organic search results) compared to the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location.

Google provides this illustration to distinguish between absolute top and top impression share:

Figure 3 | Target Impression Share

Having a clear understanding of ad positioning can help you diagnose campaign performance issues and make decisions to increase your bids and quality. For example, knowing what percentage of eligible top impressions your ads capture helps you determine if you should increase your bids. Search absolute top impression share and Search top impression share are valuable indicators of available opportunity to show your ads in more prominent positions. 

Impression data can tell you why a keyword may be performing poorly. The granularity of impression share lost due to budget or rank explains exactly what changes you need to make in order to improve ad position.

Bidding too low on keywords can prevent your ads from appearing on the first page. In turn, this can lead to low impressions and conversions. Paying attention to impressions and position metrics can help you make sure your ads get enough visibility to meet your advertising goals. 

Analyzing impression metrics and average position together can also tell you a lot about campaign performance issues.

Strategies to Improve Impression Share

There can be a number of reasons behind poor impression share. Key metrics provide insights into which factors are impacting performance. Then you can make the necessary changes to combat it. Here are the main areas you can focus on to improve targeting in Adwords:

Increase your budget

Your budget controls how often an ad is shown. If your daily budget is too low, it can reach its limit early in the day. This means missed opportunities for ad impressions. Experiment with increasing your budget to see if this fixes the problem.

Decrease regional targets

If you’re targeting a large regional area, it’s difficult to get your ads shown as much as possible. But, if you restrict your location settings to a smaller area, you have more control and potential to dominate impression share. Restricting your targeting to a smaller region will, of course, lead to fewer impressions overall, but it allows you to gain the impression share you need to drive clicks and conversions for your ads. 

Improve ad quality

An important factor impacting rank and subsequent position is ad quality. If your ad is poorly optimized or irrelevant for your target keyword, this can negatively impact your Quality Score. Google details a number of strategies you can use to improve ad Quality Score.

Re-adjust your budget

If for some reason you decide to increase your regional targets, this can negatively impact impression share. To combat this issue, you can re-adjust your budget to cover the cost of targeting more potential impressions with your ads.

Increase bids 

Probably the biggest opportunity to target impression share is through strategic bidding. Raising bids can improve the chances your ad will show in an auction. Advertisers can make these changes manually by increasing bids for keywords with poor impression share. Or they can use automated bidding strategies to target impression share overall.

Automated Bidding Strategies to Target Impression Share

Today there are lots of ways to target impression share as a bidding strategy in Adwords. Each has its unique features and benefits to automate account bidding optimization.


Google AdWords scripts are a way of controlling changes in your AdWords account using JavaScript code. They can be used to automate all sorts of tasks, including controlling your bidding strategy. 

Here’s an example of a script you can use to bid to impression share instead of ad position. It automatically finds keywords whose impression share is too low, then increases their bids. Next, it finds all keywords with a clickthrough rate better than 1% and impression share that’s too high and decreases those bids. 

Scripts are a great way to operationalize a bidding strategy to target impression share. Just make sure the script you use has all the capabilities you need to control your account in the right way. For example, a script could completely disregard the budget constraints you need.

Automated Rules

Automated rules are another easy way to target impression share as a bidding strategy. Google’s automated rules can be used to automate all sorts of processes, such as ad scheduling, pausing low-performing keywords, controlling budgets and costs. 

It’s also possible to use automated rules to target an average position with your bidding. But since Average Position doesn’t really reflect ad position on a page, you could instead target other impression share metrics, such as Search Absolute Top impression share or Search (Top) IS.

Here’s how to create automated rules targeting impression share metrics:

1. Click Keywords

2. Click the three-dot icon and select Create an automated rule

3. Under "Type of rule", select Change keyword bids

4. In the "Apply to keywords" section, choose All enabled keywords.

5. Under “Action”, select Increase bids.

6. In the "Condition" section, set an appropriate impression share metric.

7. Set a target percentage for your condition.

Here’s an example of what automated rules settings look like for Search lost abs. top IS:

Figure 4 | Target Impression Share

Automated Bidding

Google Ads automated bidding offers a number of strategies to optimize toward specific business goals, such as maximize clicks, target ROAS, target CPA, and maximize conversions. In 2018 they introduced a new strategy: target impression share. 

You can use Target Impression Share to automatically set bids to reach a specific visibility goal:

  • Absolute Top of Page 
  • Top of Page
  • Anywhere on the page 

For example, if you set an Impression Share target of 70% on top of page, Google’s automated bidding technology will set CPC bids to ensure your ads appear on top of page 70% of the total possible amount of times they could show. You can use this automated bidding strategy at the campaign level, or apply it as a portfolio strategy across multiple campaigns. 

Wrapping Up 

Over the past year or so, Google has been making changes to depreciate the value of ad position metrics and encourage advertisers to focus on targeting impression share. Now that there’s a wealth of granular impression share metrics available, it’s easy for advertisers to use them to drive campaign goals. 

At the very least, PPC managers should start paying attention to these metrics and how they’re impacted by campaign changes. Targeting impression share as an automated bidding strategy is the best way to maximize the value of this metric for PPC performance.